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Why Michigan Should Form A State-Regulated, Independent Medical Marijuana Cooperative (Peter Luke Column)

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Republican affection for free-market capitalism aside, the open sale of marijuana in dispensaries across Michigan was never going to fly.


The concession for dispensary proprietors, shut down by the Michigan Court of Appeals last month, was that Isabella County's prosecutor targeted Compassionate Apothecary in Mount Pleasant not as a criminal enterprise but a public nuisance in civil violation of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act of 2008.


Less fortunate is Brian Reed of Montmorency County. On Aug. 25, 2009, aerial surveillance by the Huron Undercover Narcotics Team spotted six marijuana plants growing outside his house. Because his medical marijuana card didn't arrive until Oct. 6, a separate appellate panel ruled last week he can be charged criminally even though he wasn't arrested until Oct. 16. Whether he can be convicted by a northeastern Lower Peninsula jury of his peers, the court didn't opine.


Still, the law is the law.


Do a word search of MMMA and you won’t find the word “dispensary.” Only those authorized by a physician to use marijuana, or their designated caregiver, can grow it.


The law states a registered “patient” can possess 2.5 ounces of cultivated marijuana at a time and 12 plants. A “caregiver” – officially designated by the state to provide the drug to a maximum of five patients – can grow or possess as many as 72 plants “in a closed, locked facility.” How that language could spur a pretty big business in the state is unclear.


After the Mount Pleasant decision, dispensary operators in jurisdictions that intend to use the decision as an enforcement tool quickly closed their doors rather than tempt more serious charges for operating outside the MMMA’s confines. In areas where authorities have said policing the public health code isn’t a terribly big priority, absent complaints, dispensaries remain open.


While the appellate courts can define the boundaries of the law, they can’t compel local law enforcement to pursue criminal penalties or sanctions for activities that fall outside those boundaries.


peter-luke-column-logo-630b2501fdf6b170.pngNor can the courts alter the intentionally vague language in the law, crafted by the national marijuana legalization lobby. That’s why Attorney General Bill Schuette wants lawmakers to amend the MMMA to provide criminal penalties, give police more tools to verify the law is being followed, narrow the medical conditions for which the drug can be approved and insist physicians have a “bona fide” relationship with the patient.


That requires legislation passed by the House and the Senate, and to be signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder, who doesn’t seem particularly alarmed. Legislation has to be passed not just with a majority of votes, but with a three-fourths, bipartisan supermajority in each chamber.The chief flaw in the medical marijuana law is that it’s not very relevant to the seriously ill patients the proponents told voters it was tailored for.


Now a 55-year-old multiple sclerosis sufferer who’s never taken an illicit drug in her life might be able to procure the seeds, apparatus and know how for cultivating high-grade marijuana plants in an “enclosed, locked” place in her house. Probably, she hasn’t a clue. In that case, she has to somehow find a caregiver. They aren't listed in the phone book or on a referral list.


In fact, those skilled in the cultivation of marijuana or best able to network with those green-thumbed “caregivers” might well be among those in least medical need. Perhaps they’re among the tens of thousands of Michigan medical marijuana cardholders suffering from “chronic pain.”


Closing dispensaries and rewriting the law doesn’t help those who could really use the drug. Nor does it impact supply for the true marijuana aficionados, among them those commenters on the web who note the law allows for the individual cultivation of more than five pounds of the stuff per year.


A middle ground would establish a form of state-regulated, independently operated cooperative. It would operate at cost and cultivate locally. It wouldn’t be capitalism and thus wouldn’t represent outright legalization. Accompanying this would be restrictions on where else it could be grown.


Did voters intend for such a thing? Given years of post-election legal parsing by lawyers, judges and politicians over what the law does or doesn’t allow, who knows?






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